After years in which the United States showed an average annual growth of 11%, the total sum of the wine imports in this market have undergone stagnation in 2008, since they have registered a growth of just 0.5% in value and a decrease of 3.8% in volume in reference to the data of the previous financial year. These figures, provided by the United States Department of Commerce to Observatorio Español del Mercado del Vino (OEMV), correspond to the average yearly period until October 2008.
After an analysis of exports evolution, the sales performance of Argentina stands out in constant growth, showing an increase of 29% in value and 13% in volume. Besides, Argentina is the only country among the main ones that has managed to maintain the progress of the previous financial years, even in a year characterized by the global economic crisis. However, the sales figure is still very distant to the one of the main exporting countries, even though Argentina is in fourth place as exporter in volume and eighth in value.
France continues heading sales per value with 1,485 million dollars, an amount that represents about 32% of the total imports in said country. It is followed by Italy with 1,305 million dollars, which reprensents 28% of total exports to the United States; Australia with 713 million dollars, 15% of the total amount, and, at grater distance, Spain with 278 million dollars, a figure equivalent to a quota of 6% of the total wine exported to the United States.
Why are we still growing?
Used to bad news, Argentina is perplexed at being one of the first exporters to the United States, and wonders about the favorable rhythm of exports. Cecilia Razquin, export manager at Catena Zapata, the second Argentinian wine exporter to the US -just behind Peñaflor- indicates that "Argentina grows in value, while France, Australia, and Spain are losing market share. These countries were negatively affected by currency fluctuations, whereas we were favored by it. Even Chile was hurt by the currency issue, although it was the less affected as it grew 14%; they sought the way to keep gaining market share compared to the rest of the countries."
"Now, exchange rates are turning around. The dollar is revaluing compared to the euro, and we do not know how this will go on. Even though we have devalued a bit, our costs are still going up and the devaluation is then blurred," Razquin claims.
"If the dollar continues revaluing against the euro, European and Australian godos will be once again valued," she forecasts. Razquin adds that Argentinian wines "offer a good price to quality ratio that makes them very attractive in the United States; hence, there is a combination of factors to be considered."
Catena Zapata, whose Alamos wines are now distributed by Gallo, forecasts a good 2009.
Carlos Trad, export manager at Doña Paula, with an operations base in New York, makes an exhaustive analysis of the current scenario of wine imports in the United States. With regard to the sustained growth of Argentina, he claims three factors: "a sustained rise of quality across the board, affordable prices compared to the rest of the world and an over-presence in the media and trade-talk regarding its real market share. This makes people perceive Argentina as something bigger that it is really, and that is very positive." In terms of the near future, he anticipates Argentina will keep growing in the United States during 2009.
"In times of crisis, the value discourse is everywhere, and Argentina and Chile are clear examples. Moreover, Argentina is clearly under-represented in many states and that implies an opportunity to incorporate our wines that are already distributed. Finally, Argentina's presence is still limited in supermarket chains of great volume channels. In 2009, several actors have more or less aggressive distribution agreements than in this channel. That should imply an important leap in volume."
As for the rest of the countries, he said that Australia was not the only one that dropped, there was an overall fall in imports. "In fact, Italy (-9%) and France (-11%) were the major losers, after Australia (-8%), Germany (-6%), and even New Zealand (-5%) and South Africa (-20%). I believe that the most spectacular case is Australia, as it fell both in volume and -to a greater extent- in value, which means that even when prices were lowered, demand dropped."
Nevertheless, he asserted that it is too soon to make serious conclusions. "It seems that Australia was swept by the Yellow Tail curse, which lumped everyone together and offered and attractive image for the short term. I would not be surprised to find that this whole model changes dramatically in 2009 and Australia appears as more of a "classic" than an "opportunity" in order to balance off the loss."
Spain remains fourth In the case of Spain, it continues being the fourth main wine exporter to the United States in terms of value, while it is in sixth place in terms of volume. Spanish exports grew 3.1%, though the total amount of sales is still very distant from France and Italy, their main European competitors apart from Australia. As regards volume, since two years ago Argentina exceeded the Spanish wine sales, relegating Spain to the sixth place, behind Chile. Concerning the mean price, Spain is still in second place with 5.93 dollars per liter, very distant from those 12.98 dollars per liter, the mean price of French wine in the United States.
All in all, with a total amount of 4,645 million dollars due to wine imports, The United States is one of the main markets where Spain should grow above the current figures if it wants to be up to the position of their European competitors, France and Italy.
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